The Sign of the Beaver Summary

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare is a 1983 historical fiction novel about a boy living in colonial Maine.

  • In 1768, thirteen-year-old Matt and his father build a cabin in the Maine woods. Matt is left alone to fend for himself when his father returns east for the winter.
  • Matt befriends Attean, a young Native American, and the two learn from each other about their different cultures. However, when Matt refuses to join Attean’s tribe on a hunting expedition, tensions rise between the two boys.
  • When Attean’s tribe returns to claim their land, Matt must decide whether to stay or go. He ultimately decides to stay and protect his cabin, but the experience has changed him forever.

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The Sign of the Beaver is an excellent introduction to life among pioneers and Native Americans in the eighteenth-century American colonies. Full of precise detail concerning the tasks and objects that filled everyday life, the novel also contains a good deal of adventure and suspense. Most notable is Speare's insightful and sensitive portrayal of the relations among white settlers and Native Americans. Intertwined with the exciting plot is a strong but not didactic commentary on the tragedy that ensued when settlers forced the Native Americans from their lands.

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